Fla. Legislature could give Scott more power
Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 11:50 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 11:50 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Rick Scott, the outsider who at one point railed against the political establishment, may soon start getting the kind of control that was never bestowed on Florida's previous chief executives.
It's still early in the 2012 session but the Republican-controlled Legislature is starting to move ahead with proposals that would give Scott more hands-on power to shape the judicial branch and control regional job development agencies.
Scott could also win his bid to have more of a say over state incentives used to lure businesses as well as get a legislative blessing for the way he has tackled the rulemaking process of state government.
These moves are already drawing sharp complaints from Democrats, who warn this could be the start of a major concentration of power into the hands of the governor.
But many top Republicans say that in the last year they have come to know Scott and trust him more than they did when he first came into office.
"When you get to know somebody better you feel an element of trust....and you feel comfortable dealing with them," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.
This is a turnabout from a year ago.
Scott, a former hospital chain executive who used more than $70 million of his own money to win the governor's race, entered office barely knowing many top GOP legislators. In his first few months many of his budget recommendations were ignored, he was sued by two legislators over his decision to reject high-speed rail funding from the federal government, and the Senate's budget chairman contended that the governor's office had broken the law by the way it sold off the state plane.
Those early misgivings have given way to a more cooperative attitude as Scott has tried to remake his image, pared back his agenda and turned to Tallahassee insiders to help him in his dealings with state legislators.
During last week's opening of the session that cooperation paid off. A House committee approved a top Scott initiative to give him more control over regional workforce boards that control millions in money for job training and job placement services. Scott made the push in the wake of reports of misspending by several boards, including handing out contracts to family members. Last year he demanded that members of a central Florida workforce board resign.
The bill now moving would spell out that the executive director of the boards "serve at the pleasure" of the governor and could be fired at any time.
That's similar to the approach included in a measure that would give Scott more power over judicial nominating commissions.
These are the panels that screen judicial applicants and make recommendations to the governor on who should be appointed to the bench. A bill approved by a House panel this past week says that a majority of the members on the commission also "serve at the pleasure" of the governor and can be removed at any time.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said the measure will help provide "accountability" to the commissions.
Scott said he supports the measure because it will help him find judges who "do not expand" the law.
"I think when people elect governors I think they expect them to be able to appoint judges," Scott said.
Democrats are unable to stop the proposals now moving through the Legislature but they have already started warning that their GOP colleagues are going too far.
"I quite frankly just think that too much power is shifted to the governor's office," said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, during debate over the workforce board bill. "That is not a slight at Gov. Scott or his office. I would have this same problem if this was brought forward by (former) Gov. (Reubin) Askew or (former) Gov. (Lawton) Chiles." They were Democrats.
Gaetz is also helping push another bill aimed at a state Supreme Court ruling from last year that stated Scott exceeded his authority by ordering state agencies to freeze rulemaking. Scott instead asked the agencies to submit planned regulations to his office for review and approval before formally proposing them. The bill makes it clear that Scott has power over state agency heads who report to him.
"No matter who the governor is, we would all agree accountability is essential," Gaetz said.
One area, however, that could test the relationship between lawmakers and Scott is over the handling of state contracts. Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville (and father of Matt Gaetz), has proposed a bill that would give Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater the ability to scrutinize state contracts before they are signed.
Legislative complaints about contracts — including how they are renewed and whether they allow payments to go up automatically — has been going on for several years. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009 vetoed a bill that would have given lawmakers more control over state contracts.
Despite Scott's reputation as a skilled businessman, Don Gaetz said that job should go to the CFO since his name is on every state check.
"I think we are leaving millions of dollars on the table by less than professional stewardship of taxpayer dollars," he said. "At the time we are thinning the soup in our nursing homes and we are cutting education budgets we ought to look first in those areas."
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